January’s books: a rundown

5 Feb

I said a while ago that I was intending to do a variety of things that would make me a happier person this year. One of those things was to read more books. I decided I’d keep a list, broken down by month, of what I had read, partly because I like lists, and partly because I thought it might encourage me to read new things. Then I thought I could turn each monthly list into a blog post, because talking about books is fun. So here we are.


January’s list starts optimistically with The Great Gatsby but is then subsumed under and becomes largely dominated by the Game of Thrones series (or, as George R. R. Martin originally intended it to be known, A Song of Ice and Fire). I make no apologies for this. I was stuck in a station.


I had The Great Gatsby with me but I had finished it, editorial notes and all, within a few short hours. Gatsby was – well, it was fine. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I wasn’t underwhelmed. I enjoyed the references to Trimalchio (ever the Classicist, me; Trimalchio is a character in Petronius’ Satyricon, also hailed as the first Roman novel). I felt sorry for Gatsby. I felt a little bit sorry for Daisy, but not that much. I struggle a little with the American blurring of what a British author would distinguish as the separate strands of class and wealth. To be honest I suspect a lot of Americans struggle a little with this too – wealth seems to confer the right to a membership of a certain sort of elite, but you can still be despised as a nouveau-riche. How are these factors reconcilable?


It doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to me, but on thinking about it I suppose the system is rather similar to the Roman one after all, where you had to be wealth-qualified to be a member of a particular class but you didn’t – necessarily – have to be from a particular family (although, of course, great snobbishness existed when new families broke into the old ranks, as in the case of Cicero). So I closed Gatsby feeling rather unenlightened and a little deflated. This may have had something to do with the fact that it was 7.30am and I’d been on a coach from Paris to London all night. If I’ve missed something crucial, I’d be interested to hear it.


Happily, my finishing Gatsby coincided almost perfectly with the WHSmith at London Victoria opening for business. Lacking in reading material and with many hours of waiting ahead, I lurched in, bleary-eyed, and selected the biggest tome I could find (and towards which I had been harbouring guilty intentions of reading for some time). I was doubly sold by the picture of an angsty Sean Bean on the cover. Game of Thrones captured my attention for most of the month. I’ve read Book 1, 2 and 3 (parts I and II) now; Books 4 and 5 are obviously soon to come.


GoT is a riot. It’s not spectacularly well-written – some of the sentences are hilariously painful, weighed down with archaisms like bowling balls on the rubber sheet of the universe, and aware of it, too – but it is fun. And it carries you along relentlessly, because even if you don’t like hearing about what Sansa is up to, you can’t wait to find out what Tyrion (played by the truly excellent Peter Dinklage in the HBO series) is going to say next. He is a funny, funny man. And so on. Martin is pretty brutal with his characters, too. There’s not a lot of time to get sentimental. You think someone’s the hero, that he’s safe? Jog on. You have no idea what’s going to happen in just a few chapters. Even the evil bastards don’t stay the same. In terms of the words that get put on the page, GoT could be better. But the overall plot – the threads of the story, and the inexorable winding-together of those threads – is incredible. It’s an absolute Gordian knot of a series. Also, there’s a lot of sex.


After I’d finished Book 2 of GoT I realised that I’d have to allow myself to take time off in between the books if I ever wanted to read anything else. I’d also refused to go and see the film Life of Pi before I had read the book, and time for the former was running short. So I obtained the book, read it, thought about it, watched the film, thought a bit more. It wasn’t what I was expecting, I’ll be totally honest. I had no idea that it was about a boy and not about a way of living after the manner of a mathematical concept. Which is – well, pleasing, really. I liked the total mystery the book held for me; nothing in the title gave it away. It was beautiful and improbable. I didn’t really understand the divine connection straight away; or rather, I understood it on a surface level, within the confines of the novel, but not until I heard it actually spoken in the film did it mean more. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it. But basically, I took it to mean that humans tell stories so they don’t have to confront their worse natures. Which is quite a stark and simple message for a book about a boy and a tiger. Well done, Yann Martel.


I also read Catcher in the Rye, finally. Finally, in that I read it to round off the month, and finally in that I’d been intending to read it since I was approximately 14. Again, it wasn’t what I was expecting. I read it half-aware that I had heard Benedict Cumberbatch refer to it as the book that had changed his life in an interview once. Given the execration dished out to ‘phonies’ and ‘actors’ by narrator Holden Caulfield, I thought this was fascinating. I find it more rewarding to read books through a prism cast by something or someone else in any case; this was a good example of that. Again, though, I have to say that, like Gatsby, Catcher left me pretty cold. Maybe there’s a lot to be said for actually studying a text. I can’t say I ever felt the need when it came to (eg) Pride and Prejudice, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to say anything interesting about Plato if I hadn’t read what a bunch of other people thought about him too (no snide comments, please).


So, in conclusion, I’ve read a couple of modern classic American novels, a Man Booker Prize winner about God and a medieval-esque fantasy series about knights, dragons and sex. Not bad. I’ll continue this sub-theme in March when I tell you about February’s books (and to whet your appetite, I can tell you that these will include 1984, On the Road and Wolf Hall). I have broad tastes, and I’m not afraid to share them. Oh! And – of course – all suggestions very much welcome!


2 Responses to “January’s books: a rundown”

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  1. The Darling Books of May | Mumblebee - June 4, 2013

    […] off, only that I’d read an awful lot of it back in January (remember that post? Read it here: https://natashasfragments.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/januarys-books-a-rundown/ ). I decided just to crack on. I figured that I’d work out pretty quickly whether I had messed […]

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